What’s in a name? Confusion, apparently

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Clinical research Contract research organisation Contract research organization

What’s in a name? Confusion, apparently
Outsourcing-pharma.com witnessed a fascinating debate on the definition of ‘CRO’ yesterday with terms like 'collaboration' and 'release' being suggested as potential alternatives.

The acronym CRO usually stands for contract or clinical research organisation, which is a third-party firm that provides drug developers with research services.

However, within the industry that definition seems to be changing.

In February​ Outsourcing-pharma.com asked a number of CROs, contract manufacturing organisations (CMOs) and industry groups if given the trend for service companies to tout themselves as ‘one stop shops’ the terms CRO and CMO were starting to merge.

While most CMOs we asked – notably Recipharm and Almac – said no, John Lewis from the Association of Clinical Research Organisations (ACRO) suggested the definitions could change in time.

“ACRO specifically defines “CRO” as a “Clinical Research Organization” and, to date, none of the major CROs are engaged in contract manufacturing as there are significant differences in the core competencies and business dynamics of research versus manufacturing.”

“However, with on-going consolidation in this space it is not unforeseeable that clinical research and manufacturing services may be combined under a common umbrella of “contract” services but, at this time, the distinction remains meaningful.”


With this article in mind a debate that started a few days ago in one of the Linkedin groups of which Outsourcing-pharma.com is a member caught our attention.

A post in CRO and CMO, CRAMS suggested that changing the definition of CRO to ‘collaborative research organisation’ would better reflect the closer working relationships sponsors have with their contractors (see our related article on just that topic​).

The question received some mixed responses. One poster suggested that the clinical/contract debate means the term CRO is already confusing and does not take into account firms that offer only preclinical services.

Another respondent said defining CRO as contract research organisation is appropriate given that sponsors and services firms engage in a business relationship, while conceding that inserting a ‘warm and fuzzy’ word like collaboration may be welcomed by science focused researchers.

A different respondent suggested that the use of the word ‘Research’ is the problem for CROs that offer a wider range of services, and suggested (probably with tongue firmly in cheek) that firms involved in GMP Lot testing could be Contract Release Organisations.

The results of poll - which was still open at time of publication – suggest that contract research organisation is still the preferred term (61 per cent) with 30 per cent of respondents favouring Collaborative Research Organisation.

This poll is now closed. See the results here​.

Related topics Clinical Development

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